The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced it will investigate whether or not “stand your ground” laws are racially biased.
While there are some indicators of racial bias in the triggers and operation of SYG laws, research is scant. Data compiled by the Wall Street Journal shows a near-doubling of justifiable homicides from 2005-2011 in states where SYG passed. Moreover, their data shows that while white killers of black victims comprises only 3.1% of all homicides, such cross-racial killings constitute 15.6% of justifiable homicides. Also, an advisory group to the National District Attorneys Association met in 2007 and issued a report that, in part, concluded that among the “negative consequences” of SYG-type legislation were “a misinterpretation of physical clues that results in the use of deadly force, exacerbating culture, class, and race differences,” and “a disproportionately negative effect on minorities, persons from lower socio-economic status, and young adults/juveniles.” There is also a general body of social science research that has examined the effects of race on the perception of threat and even split-second decisions on whether to fire a gun.4 However, the implications of this social science research for justifiable homicides subject to SYG laws have not been carefully studied. A fact-based, systematic review is needed of SYG laws and their implementation.
In the last 7 years over twenty states have adopted “stand your ground” laws as part of the agenda pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) and funded by billionaire benefactors the Koch brothers. The tragic death of Trayvon Martin brought national attention to the laws which dramatically expand the justifications of the use of deadly force.
The committee plans to hold hearings and release the findings of their study within one year. Findings of racial bias in the bills would open the door to a host of possible civil claims and bolster repeal efforts. It’s an important, albeit slow, first step in returning some equality in the law.
Photo from irrezolut via flickr.